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Why enterprise iOS support continues to rise

Apple has unseated BlackBerry at the top of the enterprise mobility market and made Windows an afterthought. Android is making efforts to gain ground.

Apple's iOS continues to drive most of the mobile devices in the business world, but Android still claims its share of enterprise territory.

BlackBerry once dominated enterprise mobility, but it has not been able to hold its ground against the Apple onslaught. Even though Microsoft offered the Windows mobile OS for free to smartphone manufacturers, it has seen little success in the enterprise. Not surprisingly, the battle remains primarily between Android and iOS.

The Good Technology Mobility Index Report for Q4 2014 of its own customers showed iOS held 73% of mobile device activations, while Android dropped to 25% and Windows again eked out only 1%. That number for iOS was up 7% from two quarters before.

MDM opens the door to iOS support

Apple's iOS 7 included a number of management features aimed directly at enterprise integration, such as single sign-on, Open In management and an overhaul of the mobile device management (MDM) services introduced in iOS 4.

As promising as the new features sounded, many were fairly limited in scope. For example, IT could only restrict AirDrop on devices in supervised mode. Combined with the operating system's reputation for being more secure than Android, the new management features convinced many IT admins to provide iOS support.

The challenge with Android is it's up to device manufacturers to implement additional features.

With the release of iOS 8, Apple added more management features. Administrators could push eBooks to their users, lock specific areas on a device and control what files an app could access. The new OS also supported on-demand and per-app VPN, as well as expanded passcode usage, automated MDM enrollment and numerous other features to keep IT smiling.

There's even more in the new iOS 9, including changes to the Apple Volume Purchase program for the purchasing of bulk apps. In the new version, organizations can buy apps without tying them to a user's individual Apple ID. IT will have complete control of how these apps are installed, configured, managed and updated.

Because iOS was making significant inroads into the enterprise, vendors began creating enterprise-class mobile apps, such as Roambi and Salesforce for the OS. Even Microsoft now offers iOS versions of its Office suite. Apple's joint venture with IBM to create enterprise apps should fuel the enterprise desire for iOS devices even more.

Android puts up a fight

As enterprise iOS support has steadily increased, Google has been moving Android in the same direction. With Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Google was already thinking in terms of enterprise adoption by introducing full-device encryption and a VPN API.

In Android 5.0 Lollipop, Google expanded the MDM features and although Android continued to offer a cheaper alternative to iOS, IT was still not convinced.

Google countered IT doubts with Android for Work, a management platform that supports both employee-owned and company-provisioned devices, while enabling remote management and simplifying application deployment. Android for Work also makes it possible for third-party MDM tools to enroll Android devices in bulk as well as manage business apps and data separately from a device's personal apps and data.

It's up to device manufacturers to implement additional features in a consistent and seamless manner. Many manufacturers are focused only on the consumer market and concerned more with the bells and whistles than enterprise-friendly features. In addition, Google is at the mercy of vendors to roll out updates to the devices they've already sold, which often takes a long time. Android vendors might even tweak the OS in such a way that some models are permanently locked into an old OS.

No matter how prevalent enterprise iOS support is now, Apple won't be sitting still, waiting for its opponents to catch up. The lines have been drawn and the battle has begun, but the ultimate winners are yet to be determined.

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